i文庫 (iBunko) – The App Store’s best reader

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I spend more time reading than tending to important life matters. My wife has even threatened to leave me and my books on several occasions. But not to matter; I’ve found an alternative to the hand-torch and a pillow to hide in the filth of literature: the iDevice. Stanza and eReader Pro have supplied most of my needs till now, but when I feel adventurous, or simply can’t find a great read in English, I turn to Japanese texts. One of the problems however, is that Japanese texts don’t read as naturally when displayed horizontally. i文庫 (iBunko) is a Japanese reader which doesn’t compete directly compete with my favourites. Rather, it exists alongside both apps as a great alternative reader for the highly literate Japanese market and for those who are interested in reading Japanese texts.

iBunko is built from the ground up to be an easy-to-use app which displays Japanese texts in high-resolution fonts. If that is its mandate, it fulfills it in spades. But nagisa’s app goes way beyond any typical reader – with a stubbornly robust feature list, iBunko would also embarrass some application suites in terms of broad utility as a file managing app.

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Flawless interface

Firstly, like eReader and Stanza, it plugs into a vast database of free books and includes a built in library of books (151 to be exact!). But 151 books from novels to how-to’s isn’t going to capture the attentions of many readers for for very long. Fortunately, iBunko also links to Aozora, an online resource which houses around 7000 texts and whose origins span the globe. As far as I can be certain, every one is translated into Japanese. Similar to Project Gutenberg, a large portion of Aozora’s collection has become free to download due to a print life of more than 70 years. Other sources, released under Creative Common’s licenses can be found buried within the collection.

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While targeted at the Japanese market, learners of the language also stand to benefit from iBunko. Ever read Sherlock Holmes? Well, bone up a bit on its English version, then download the Japanese analogue and enjoy the story via translation. For the most part, iBunko works well for students, and when accessing well-documented texts. But in order to approach some older, archaic texts which need side notes and better look-up tools, users may feel a bit stranded. There isn’t a way to directly access a dictionary though the app. Text cannot be selected, referenced, or queried for study or analysis.

Where iBunko really excels, however, isn’t its excellent implementation of the ‘usual suspects’ – online libraries, texts, and good reading engine. iBunko is a top-notch reader, but it is minutely structured. Users can rename libraries, organise files and libraries, can read from the web or download to the iDevice, and import from user-specified FTP servers and 3rd-party software. FTP access works very well to access TXT and Zip files. When a text file is opened from within iBunko, it is quickly formatted into vertically-aligned text – this works brilliantly with Japanese texts. English texts also receive the same treatment, which is good for a laugh, but not for reading.

Navigation is done by flicking, and to explore the complex menu system, you need to tap the screen to bring up its icons. iBunko is by far a more lovely model than even the latest versions of Stanza and eReader. While harnessing a good flick-based navigation system, it is far better labelled , utilising secondary, dedicated controls such as page forward and backward buttons.

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iBunko, meet English!

Therein are also the (somewhat) familiar faces: しおり(bookmark), 青空文庫(the online library), 本棚(your personal library), and 設定(settings). There isn’t space to explain it all in a review except to say that from bookmarks to settings, iBunko is the most comprehensive reader I have encountered on any platform, ever. It will display memory usage for the iDevice and all running processes much like Activity Monitor does in OSX. There is a multitude of controls and tweaks for your reading pleasure from font selection to colours (which can be selected from web-colours in the RGB format); you can update the app’s synthetic data whilst in-app and sync with the entire Aozora database – a project which will keep your iDevice busy for a looooong time.

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But that is only scratching the surface. iBunko directs users to texts in a variety of ways. Author, Title, date, popularity, recommended reads, and reviews – each of these can be utilised to find something to read (and trust me, there is definitely something for you). I found this browsing system to be very good, with fewer chinks in its armour than Stanza’s online browser, except that iBunko does not allow you to browse by genre. So, finding something on the very subject you want, may take longer than first anticipated.

Got texts of your own which you want to download onto your iDevice? Not a problem. As mentioned above, it can be done in several ways, the simplest of which is Direct Download from the web. Online texts which are found in either of the supported formats (TXT or ZIP) can be entered directly into the URL field of 指定ダウンロード (direct download) under your bookshelf (本棚). Assuming that the file follows the specifications needed by iBunko, everything will transfer flawlessly to your library. Using FTP or DiskAid, any file you durst offload onto (whoopee!) the device will fit somewhere into the bowels of your device. In other words, iBunko is also a great way to turn your iDevice into a hefty thumb drive. While iBunko will only display TXT and ZIP files in its direct or share folders, anything can be transferred through it to your iDevice. Sadly, my AIFF music file which underwent a name change to a TXT did not read the way I wanted ;)

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Remember though, that iBunko is a reader first and foremost; it just happens to do everything else. for reading, it is simply superb. Formatted texts look great, but unformatted TXT files are overhauled in real-time to look like professionally published works. iBunko is extremely easy on the eyes in its default form and can be tweaked to fit your fancy. Titles are displayed in the upper left corner of the device and page numbers on the right. Pinch, spread and pan functions are flawless, and in general, navigation is far smoother than on any other platform. From button placement to GUI consistency, iBunko is a dream to both read and use.

That isn’t to say that its intricacy immediately disseminates to the user, but such a vast application with unparalleled features is mind-bogglingly simple to use. Nagisa also have an excellent online tutorial which will get any user through the basics of just about any function in the app. The caveat? It’s all in Japanese. Of course, considering the market for this application, it is not strike against the company, nor the product, but unless you are extra-adventurous in your studies, it may be daunting. The tutorial is below:

nagisa’s iBunko tutorial

Conclusion
There isn’t much that iBunko lacks. Genre searches and and connection to an online store would help its wide-spread use of course, but in its current form, this reader is head-and-shoulders above the competition. But that is to be expected. Japan is one of the most literate countries in the world, if not the most – apps like Stanza and eReader Pro which have wowed the ABC world are just shy on ability for the かきくけこ world. But then again, Stanza and eReader Pro attack a segment of the population which isn’t targeted by nagisa’s app. If iBunko could be tweaked to read non-Japanese text easily, it would hands-down be the best reader for a multitude of languages across the iPhone. Its combination of text options, library tweaking, stability, and overall feature robustness is peerless among digital readers. For 4,99$, this nagisa app is a steal for those who will benefit from a Japanese reader. Add file storage to the mix and its price deflates even further. But, nothing is perfect, and due to its lack of genre searching and access to a dictionary or other reference tool, iBunko walks away with a grab from TMA.

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App Summary
Title:i文庫 iBunko (V 2.4)Developer:nagisa
Price:$4.99App Size:13.8 MB
  • Best reader interface
  • Perfect ergonomics
  • Great online library
  • Tweakable
  • Continued and dedicated development staff
  • Transforms iDevice into thumb drive!
  • No genre browsing
  • No access to dictionary apps

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  • Matthew

    I always wanted to learn Japanese…

  • http://www.touchmyapp.com shigzeo

    There is an app for that, but it ain’t this one!

  • Pingback: myComics in Review – Kaboom.. Crash… Pow!.. | TouchMyApps

  • http://twitter.com/blahah404 Richard Smith

    Actually iBunko does have dictionary lookup, plus google and wikipedia lookup. Just hold your finger down on the screen at it will bring up a box allowing you to choose the word or phrase to look up and which app to send it to. You can customise the apps, too, but Daijirin (J-J) and iDict+ (EPWING) work out of the box.

  • Adri

    Thanks for the review! I want To use it To improve my Japanese but my kanji habilities are not so good yet.
    Are there any of the books you mentioned which are free which come
    With furigana?? Thank you!

  • christopherjacques

    iBunko is now my go to reader for English, more than iBooks, stanza, megareader, etc.

    It’s now completely localized in English. All menu items and settings are in English.

    It has very specific features I haven’t seen on others such as tapping either left or right advances the page.. So if you switch hands frequently, you can still just tap to advance. Killer feature in my opinion.

    It read CBR and CBZ, so comics and manga are not an issue.

    You can adjust the page layout to compensate for the cover. Meaning, if you have a full page spread in landscape mode that is not lining up, you can shift one page left or right to get your layouts to match up.

    I like the way you can manage your library too.

    It’s just the all around best reader, even if you don’t read Japanese, though it’s perfect for that too!

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